Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2004
Another Chinon with a little bit of bottle age under its belt this week. Admittedly, not quite as much as the charming 1996 from Serge et Bruno Sourdais which popped up as last week’s choice, but we are still at more than a decade here. And, having realised I have half a dozen bottles of this in the cellar almost untouched until now (I think this is only the second or third I have broached) I figured it was about time I got stuck in. I don’t feel too bad about writing about Chinon for two consecutive weeks; in truth I feel that I don’t write about it enough. What is more, having a glass full of this in my hand reminded me that this is an important year for this appellation, which is currently going through a significant period of change. Provided all the right signatures are obtained, 2016 will see a notable expansion of the Chinon aire géographique, the delimited area where the grapes can be grown.
This expansion of the Chinon vineyard is perhaps best understood if we think of it as an elongated oval, running along the course of the Vienne, with the town of Chinon at its centre. Then, divide the vineyard up into four quarters, using Chinon as the centre point. Looking at the right bank first, moving downstream the first quarter features the famed limestone côte of Cravant-les-Coteaux, where we find the likes of Matthieu Baudry and Philippe Alliet. On the opposite bank, although the slopes and aspects are more variable here in Sazilly and Ligré, there are also some really important domaines, including Charles Joguet and Domaine de la Noblaie. Returning to the right bank and continuing past the town of Chinon, we have some limestone again but also more gravelly and sandy terroirs of Beaumont-en-Véron and Savigny-en-Véron, home to some favourite domaines including Olga Raffault and Domaine Les Roches. That’s three of the four quarters done.
The problem comes when we look for the fourth quarter, downstream on the left bank, because it is missing. It is as if somebody took a huge bite out of the Chinon biscuit. The terroir is comparable to that found throughout the rest of Chinon (admittedly this is a bit weak as Chinon is a varied mix of limestone, gravel and sand and we could argue if appellations are really terroir-based it should be carved up into three new appellations) and the varieties planted are Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, but up until now these wines have always been sold under the Touraine appellation. The best examples are perhaps the Clos de la Plante Martin (Charles Joguet) from 3 hectares of Chenin Blanc in Saint-Germain and Les Pieds Rôti (Château de Coulaine) sourced from 1.5 hectares of Chenin Blanc planted in the communes of Saint-Germain and Thizay. These are two of seven communes in this corner of the Loire Valley set to be elevated to Chinon, the other five being Candes-Saint-Martin, Cinais, Couziers, Lerné and Seuilly. As the process has evolved (punctuated by a multitude of public consultations) an eighth more distant commune has been added. This is Brizay, which is some way upstream near the bridge at L’Île-Bouchard, famed site of the 1947 visitations by the Virgin Mary.
At present there are only about 50 hectares of vines planted here, although the delimited area could accommodate a lot more, perhaps as much as 500 hectares. As might be apparent from the wines already described the terroir is regarded locally as more suited to white than red, so perhaps we will see more plantings of Chenin Blanc here in coming years. If I was super-organised, I would perhaps finish off with a Chinon Blanc, or a Touraine from one of the eight hopeful communes, but I am afraid it hasn’t been that sort of weekend, so the Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2004 will have to do. And it’s no hardship. This cuvée comes from gravelly soils, and is perhaps the most classically styled of Philippe’s wines. Despite having more than a decade behind it this wine still has a great colour, full of confident red pigment rather than anything mature. The aromatics are rich in concentrated berry fruit, reminiscent of blackcurrants and ripe cranberry, but with a floral complexity, and some appealing notes of bay leaf and green peppercorn. This is a wine that displays the very pretty, floral side of Cabernet Franc, as well as classic methoxypyrazine notes. In the mouth it has a gentle texture, good tension, showing some of those greener elements more prominently here, the bay leaf and peppercorn joined by notes of green pepper and herbs as well. It still feels absolutely delightful though. Overall it is supple and a touch juicy, and is ready to go, with barely a lick of tannin in the finish which is long, fresh and tense. 17/20 (29/2/16)